History of India and Historiography (Part I)
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History commands fundamental significance in the Hindutva ideological system. In fact, it would not be wrong to state that their entire ideological edifice rests on a skewed perception of history. It is for this reason that right from the era of their founding ideologues, history and historical debates have had special importance before them. The modern Hindu revival movements that began during British rule sought to narrate the country’s history from a specific perspective. Since it favoured their ‘divide and rule’ policy, the British too encouraged that particular perspective. In several books and novels, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar (1883-1966) can be seen turning this perspective more violent and extremist than ever before. His book, Six Glorious Epochs of Indian History [1], deals with the Muslim rule of the Middle Ages (Medieval period). In this book, he has narrated how ‘local Hindu residents’ resisted ‘Muslim invaders’. Commenting upon the tyrannies of ‘Muslim invaders’, he has made baseless but elaborate claims of how ‘Muslim invaders’ abducted and raped Hindu women to increase the population of Muslims in India [2]. He has also said that in order to avenge Hindu women, it is important to threaten them that once they come to power, they too would be met with like treatment [3]. The second most important Hindutva ideologue, MS Golwalkar (1906-1973), went out of his way to prove that the Aryans are the original inhabitants of India. He avers that Aryans used to reside at the North Pole, and at that time, the North Pole was next to Bihar and Orissa. But continental shifts have brought it where it is today [4]. In the same book, he has also stressed the importance of having an alternative narration of history. He has said that it is high time we studied our history on our own, understand it and write it ourselves, and get rid of all planned and unplanned distortions therein. [5]

Such an appeal had been made by Savarkar too. Expressing the need for a similar exercise, he wrote: “The nation that has no consciousness of its past has no future. Equally true it is that a nation must develop its capacity not only of claiming a past but also of knowing how to use it for the furtherance of its future. The nation ought to be the master and not the slave of its own history.” [6]

Following the footsteps of its founding ideologues, this movement is now busy ‘being the master of its own history’ and drafting ‘its own version of history’. Whatever small or big power or influence the Hindutva movement could get in its history, it has used it for this purpose, i.e. to remake history.

These attempts began soon after independence. Bhartiya Vidya Bhavan sought the assistance of the Indian Government to embark upon a major project – to write the history of Indians. It eventually published an 11-volume treatise titled ‘The History and Culture of the Indian People’. It was compiled by renowned historian, RC Mujumdar (1888-1980). This book introduced a unique lens from which it viewed the Middle Ages. The Ministry of Education of the Central Government sanctioned huge funds to translate this book into all Indian languages. The following excerpt would suffice at communicating the approach used in this book. After painting an extremely horrifying and terrifying picture of Muslim rule in India, this book goes on to say:
“The Hindus resented the Muslim conquest of India and wistfully looked for the day when the name ‘Aryavarta’, the land of the Aryas, as appellation of their country, would once more be justified by the extermination of the mlechchhas (Muslims).” [7]

In 1973, an RSS pracharak, Moropant Pingle (1919-2003) founded the Akhil Bhartiya Itihas Sankalan Yojna (ABISY) and launched several bold projects. It now has branches in several parts of the country. Around 500 senior researchers of the rank of professor are associated with it [8]. This organization also publishes an academic magazine in Hindi titled Itihas Darpan from Delhi [9]. Immediately after assuming charge in 2014, the Modi government had nominated the President of its Andhra Pradesh branch, Yellapragada Sudershan Rao (born in 1945) the Chairman of the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR). It should be known that ICHR is regarded as the most reputed government institution in the country for historical research. Today, several members of ABISY can be found in ICHR and several other important institutions.

As per media reports, a 14-member committee has been working under the Ministry of Culture since 2018, and it has been entrusted with the task of re-writing Indian history. The effects of this clandestine project are especially conspicuous at the state-level, where an entirely new version of history is being taught in school history text-books [10]. As per a four-year old report of the Indian Express, succumbing to incessant interference by the Central Ministry of HRD, 1334 changes had been made (till that date) in NCERT’s 182 books. [11]

It is true that a historian’s personal views and ideologies influence his work. It is for this reason that there exist several schools of thought when it comes to the compilation of Indian history. Orientalist historiography, the Cambridge school (which is heavily influenced by the European point of view), Marxist school of thought, Subaltern historiography, Muslim historiography and Nationalist historiography are considered the major schools of historiography in India. Of late, we are also seeing the emergence of Dalit historiography and Dravidian historiography. But the attempts that are being made in the name of Hindutva historiography are not limited to the narration of history from a specific ideological perspective alone. Rather, they are a concoction of blatant lies, imagined stories, unscholarly approach and research methodology, deceit and tampering with documents and testimonies, baseless views, mythology and attempts to legitimize legends, plain refusal to accept established truths and other such fraudulent practices. Historians call this ‘historical negationism’.

The discussions which would now follow make it clear that this is not a serious school of historiography. Instead, it would be more appropriate to call it pseudohistory – historical negationism that is driven by political needs. Hence, it is quite improbable that it would influence academic circles. But the misuse of government power, manipulation of the education system and textbooks, media propaganda, political campaigning and public discourses can make it reign over the collective psyche; and such a psyche that is developed using such sinister tools is also no less sinister.

Some important elements of Hindutva Historiography:

In our opinion, Hindutva Historiography can be summed up in the following words:

All Indians, except Muslims and Christians, possess a common historical and cultural heritage. They are all progenies of Sanskrit speaking Aryans. Aryans were the original inhabitants of India. In an ancient era – which was the Golden Age of Hindu culture – they founded a glorious civilization. This Golden Age spanned the ‘Sarasvati Sindhu’ (Indus Valley or Harappa civilization) and the Vedic age. Muslims destroyed this glorious civilization and ushered in the Dark Ages by resorting to tyranny and oppression. This Dark Age continued into the British era. Finally, the courageous struggle of brave Indians resulted in freedom from twelve centuries of slavery and bondage. Now, we have acquired a rare opportunity of reviving that ancient Golden Age.
This discourse is a political necessity. It is with this discourse that the Indian masses can be made to unite, they can be offered common grounds for nationalism, minorities (Muslims and Christians) can be segregated, Dalits, Dravidians and Adivasis can be assimilated into the broader Hindu fold, and it is with this discourse that the concept of Hindu pride (Hindu asmita) can be vindicated and founded on the unique religious creed of upper-caste Hindus. This discourse encompasses all elements of Indian history. A number of important established facts of Indian history are challenged just to justify this discourse, and several alternative versions are presented in their stead. Let us have a look at some important alternative versions:
The Aryan Nation:

There is a near consensus among modern researchers that human life originated in Africa [12]. The first Homo sapiens migrated out of Africa some 125000 years ago, and it was not until 7500 years ago that the first human being stepped foot in India [13]. His progeny were the earliest Indian residents. Around 7000 BC, they began leading a civilized life based on agriculture and animal husbandry. Traces of this ancient civilization have been found in present-day Pakistan’s Balochistan province. Around 2000 BC, Aryans began migrating to India [14]. These Aryans belonged to Central Asia – present-day Ukraine, Kazakhstan and South-western Russia. When they arrived in India, the land was already inhabited by Adivasis (Adi means ancient and vasi means resident). We also had an extremely developed society in the form of the Indus Valley Civilization whose ruins were excavated some hundred years ago at Harappa (which is located in present-day Pakistan’s Punjab province, 200 km southwest of Lahore) and Mohenjo-Daro [15]. Researchers claim that the Dravidian civilization of South India was also a part of the Indus Valley Civilization. The languages that were spoken in the Indus Valley bear a stark resemblance to Dravidian languages [16]. Historians largely believe that a fourth of Indus Valley inhabitants comprised of farmers who had migrated from Iran, while the remaining 75% of the population belonged to Ancient Ancestral South Indians (AASI) [17]. Several historians believe that Aryans used their might to gain dominance over the Indus Valley Civilization, and, unable to bear their atrocities, the oppressed residents of the Valley fled to South India [18].

The Aryan Nation:

There is a near consensus among modern researchers that human life originated in Africa [12]. The first Homo sapiens migrated out of Africa some 125000 years ago, and it was not until 7500 years ago that the first human being stepped foot in India [13]. His progeny were the earliest Indian residents. Around 7000 BC, they began leading a civilized life based on agriculture and animal husbandry. Traces of this ancient civilization have been found in present-day Pakistan’s Balochistan province. Around 2000 BC, Aryans began migrating to India [14]. These Aryans belonged to Central Asia – present-day Ukraine, Kazakhstan and South-western Russia. When they arrived in India, the land was already inhabited by Adivasis (Adi means ancient and vasi means resident). We also had an extremely developed society in the form of the Indus Valley Civilization whose ruins were excavated some hundred years ago at Harappa (which is located in present-day Pakistan’s Punjab province, 200 km southwest of Lahore) and Mohenjo-Daro [15]. Researchers claim that the Dravidian civilization of South India was also a part of the Indus Valley Civilization. The languages that were spoken in the Indus Valley bear a stark resemblance to Dravidian languages [16]. Historians largely believe that a fourth of Indus Valley inhabitants comprised of farmers who had migrated from Iran, while the remaining 75% of the population belonged to Ancient Ancestral South Indians (AASI) [17]. Several historians believe that Aryans used their might to gain dominance over the Indus Valley Civilization, and, unable to bear their atrocities, the oppressed residents of the Valley fled to South India [18].

If these historical facts are accepted, the upper caste Hindus would become more deserving than Muslims of being called ‘foreign invaders’. This is because only a small portion of Indian Muslims trace their lineage to those Muslims who migrated to India from other countries; most Indian Muslims are the progeny of those resident Indians who accepted Islam at some point in time. Hence, a prime objective of Hindutva historiography is to prove that Aryans are the original inhabitants of this land. To achieve this end, they present the reverse migration (out of India) theory of Aryans, which states that Aryans did not migrate ‘to’ India from Central Asia; rather, they migrated ‘from’ India. They were the original inhabitants of this land. All the Hindus residing in India are the descendants of those resident Aryans. At various stages of history, some of these Aryan tribes migrated to Iran, Europe and other places. This essentially means that no one came from outside; rather, some Aryans migrated from India to elsewhere. They thus go on to claim that present-day Europeans are also from their progeny. In essence, the Indus Valley Civilization, the Dravidian Civilization and the Vedic Civilization are not mutually exclusive cultures representing different nations, but part of the same Aryan culture and civilization. [19]

The proposition that Aryans did indeed migrate from foreign lands to India is backed up by so many strong linguistic, archaeological, anthropological, genetic and geographical testimonies and proofs that several academic circles accept it as an irrefutable fact [20]. But the torchbearers of Hindutva try to prove their own theory using distorted and fabricated testimonials. They are being supported in these attempts by certain fanatic right-wing European writers like Belgium’s Koenraad Elst (1959) and French Indian writer Francois Gautier (born: 1950), who have been compelled by their Islamophobic leanings to adopt this dubious stand. Citing the writings of these Europeans, Hindutva ideologues try to impress upon people that their views are receiving validation from European researchers too. But, as noted journalist Tony Joseph has pointed out, the fact remains that not a single peer-reviewed research paper has ever been published in any part of the world supporting the Hindutva version of Aryan migration [21].

This is Part I of a three-part article, which will appear in the subsequent issues.

References:

1) VD Savarkar (1971) Six Glorious Epochs of Indian History (Tr. and Ed. by SD Godbole) Bal Savarkar, Mumbai
2) Ibid, pages 174-180
3) Ibid, page 179
4) MS Golwalkar (1947) We and Our Nationhood Defined, MN Kale, Nagpur, page 12
5) Ibid, pages 9-10
6) Savarkar, Vinayak Damodar. The Indian War of Independence of 1857 [London: s. n., 1909] Page VII, Author’s Introduction.
7) RC Majumdar Ed. (1967) The Delhi Sultanate [Vol 6 of The History and Culture of the Indian People]; Bhartiya Vidya Bhavan, Bombay. Page 623
8) Hindustan Times online article, ‘Among new projects, RSS to focus on studying adivasis’ traditions’.
9) www.itihasadarpana.com

10) For details, please refer this excerpt from Christophe Jaffrelot’s book on scroll.in: ‘On the way, Hindutva is changing history and science text books in school’.
11) As quoted the preceding reference of scroll.in
12) Chan, EKF Timmermann, A., Baldi, BF et al Human Origins in a southern African palaeo-wetland and first migrations. Nature 575, 185-189 (2019)
13) Tony Joseph (2018). Early Indians: The Story of Our Ancestors and Where We Came From. India: Juggernaut. Ebook available on Amazon Kindle, Chapter: ‘The First Indian’.
14) Burton Stein (2010). A History of India (2nd Ed.). Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell. Pg 47
15. Rita Wright (2009). The Ancient Indus: Urbanism, Economy and Society. Cambridge University Press.
16) Ansumali Mukhopadhyay, B. Ancestral Dravidian languages in Indus Civilization: ultraconserved Dravidian tooth-word reveals deep linguistic ancestry and supports genetics. Humanit Soc Sci Commun 8, 193 (2021)
17) www.brownpundits.com, Takeaways from the golden age of Indian population genetics
18) VM Narsimhan et al (2019) The Formation of Human Population in South and Central Asia, in Science, vol 365
19) In order to understand this point of view, please read the following book by one of its staunchest advocates: Koenraad Elst (1999) Update on the Aryan Invasion Debate. Aditya Prakashana
20) Please refer the following sources for these testimonials:
a) Genetic testimonials: Renowned Genealogist, David Reich’s article in Nature, ‘Reconstructing Indian population history’. Nature, 461 (7263) : 489-494
b) Linguistic and archaeological testimonials: DW Anthony (2010), The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World, Princeton University Press.
c) Anthropological testimonials: Asko Parpola (2015) The Roots of Hinduism: The Early Aryans and the Indus Civilization.United States, Oxford University Press.
21) Tony Joseph in www.downtoearth.org.in. ‘The Government’s version of history is less dependent on science, more on divine sayings’.

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